October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although you won’t find me running out to buy everything “Pink”, as many of the companies who capitalize on “Pink” campaigns are actually selling you products that are toxic and in fact can be cancer promoting. I do think it is a fantastic time to help educate woman on how to reduce their risk!
Education is power. I always tell my clients that if they want a healthy body, they have to start with healthy cells! The food you eat provides the nutrients needed to build each and every cell in your body, so nutrition is surely the place where good health starts!!
To provide you with useful lifestyle and dietary changes you can implement today to help heal and protect yourself, the following are my Top Seven Tips to help reduce your cancer risk and, just as important, provide you with a feeling of strength and empowerment!
1) Eat 30 grams of fiber daily to ensure regular daily bowel movements.
Estrogen exposure is one of the most important risk factors for breast cancer and fiber increases the rate at which estrogen is excreted from the body. My favorite way to increase my fiber intake is adding 1-2 tbsp of freshly ground flax seeds into my smoothies or oatmeal. For a fiber rich treat that helps to curb cravings for sweets, try adding 2 tbsp of ground flax, 1 tsp of flax oil to 4 tbsp of unsweetened organic applesauce, then sprinkle on cinnamon to taste!! Don’t forget to increase your water intake when you increase fiber intake, drinking 8 oz of water with this yummy dessert will do the trick!
2) Limit your exposure to toxins.
You have likely heard a lot about the dangers of certain types of plastics in the media lately. This is because there are chemicals most commonly found in plastics, but also pesticides, which mimic estrogen in our body and have been found to cause hormone disruptions that can result in damage to our brain and to our immune and reproductive systems. I know it is not easy, but try to avoid plastics by substituting with glass or other alternatives to eliminate exposure. In my house, I have slowly swapped out all of our plastic storage containers for glass with plastic lids and use snack sized paper bags in my daughters lunch box. Some other ways to reduce your exposure are by choosing non-bleached coffee filters, paper napkins, toilet paper and tampons and replace your conventional cleaning products with chemical free all natural alternatives. Most importantly, choose organic foods whenever possible. In order to get the biggest bang for your buck, keep in mind that pesticides are oil-based, so the scientific principle of like attracts like comes into play. For this reason, the most important time to choose organic alternatives is when you are purchasing anything with a high fat content (i.e., chicken, meat, dairy, eggs, oil, nuts, etc.) as the chemicals will be stored in higher concentrations in fat.
According to The National Cancer Institute, studies show that three to four hours a week of strenuous exercise can help reduce hormone levels and help lower breast cancer risk by an average of 30-40%. Jumping exercises like skipping rope with your feet together or using a rebounder are particularly helpful for clearing your lymphatic system, which is also an important principle for preventing cancer. I recommend that my clients incorporate these types of exercises into their exercise regimen at least three times per week!
4) Reduce stress.
A recent study of young woman under the age of 45 found that, for women who had faced more than one life-changing negative event (i.e., the death of a close family member or friend, the divorce of their parents when the subject had not yet reached the age of 20, their own divorce or an economic crisis), the risk of cancer increased by more than 50%! Although we can not control many of the events in our life, we can develop practices to deal with the stress in a more positive way. I recommend hot yoga to my clients as it lowers stress and provides a good sweat, both fabulous methods to eliminate toxins. Knowing that most of us lead very busy lives and finding extra time in the day can be challenging, I always remind my clients that a few minutes of meditation during the day, just simple deep breathing exercises, go a long way to relaxing a busy mind and increasing oxygen circulation.
5) Get a “Healthy” sleep.
Although the amount of sleep needed is still controversial, I always recommend at least 7 hours to my clients to promote a healthy metabolism. In addition, it is important to point out that the quality of sleep is equally important. Melatonin is a hormone produced when you are in complete darkness, too much light means less melatonin and promotes insomnia and a less healthy sleep. In addition, melatonin can suppress estrogen which is the hormone that fuels many reproductive cancers. In order to promote a healthy sleep environment, incorporate these simple tips. Take a look at your bedroom, make sure it is dark enough so that you can barely see your hand in front of your face and ensure there are no electronic devices around you within a 3 foot radius. The electric magnetic frequencies can lead to insomnia and interfere with your ability to get a restful sleep.
6) Nutrition is KING!
I’ve said it already, but I can’t stress this point enough!! The food we eat supplies our body with the raw materials it needs to make every single cell. So the bottom line is, the more nutrient dense your food, the stronger the cells in your body. Studies have shown a decreased risk of cancer in those who consume a mostly plant-based whole food diet as it is low in saturated fats derived from animals and high in fiber and antioxidants. Increase your intake of leafy greens and deeply coloured foods such as kale, berries, carrots, peppers and make sure to include lots of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage which have been found to be particularly cancer protective. I have found smoothies the easiest way to incorporate extra leafy greens into my diet and that of my daughter. A few handfuls of fresh baby spinach in a fruit smoothie is barely noticeable from a taste perspective and can give you that extra piece of mind for you and your family. Don’t forget to include good fats in your diet such as those found in nuts, seeds, ground flax, hemp, and avocados.
It is also important to avoid excessive amounts of sugar, alcohol and caffeine. These substances decrease immune system function and they contribute to higher levels of insulin being secreted which may also increase your cancer risk.
7) Don’t forget to take your vitamins!
With respect to preventing cancer, recent studies have found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and a higher incidence of many types of cancer. That information, coupled with new research (e.g., Cedric Garland and other world renowned vitamin D researchers have determined that women with vitamin D levels above 52 ng/ml have half the risk of developing breast cancer as those with 13 ng/ml) is the reason I recommend, to the vast majority of my clients, that they should be supplementing with vitamin D everyday!
As a nutritionist, I would love to say we can get all the nutrients we need from food; however, conventional farming methods, the use of fertilizers, soil degradation and the importing of food has greatly lowered its nutrient content. For this reason, I always recommend supplementation in addition to a nutrient-dense, whole food diet. Your natural health practitioner will be best able to recommend the optimal supplement and dose. I for one prefer whole food based supplements whenever possible.